A day after Congress rejected a package of bills aimed at tightening restrictions on gun ownership, California lawmakers moved in the opposite direction, increasing funds for a program that confiscates weapons from people who are prohibited from owning them because of mental illness or violent criminal pasts.
The state Assembly voted 57-10 to approve Senate Bill 140, which devotes $24 million to the state Department of Justice for its Armed Prohibited Persons Program. The program compares databases of gun buyers to others listing people who have committed crimes that make them ineligible to own guns. Law enforcement agents then go to the homes of people on both lists and confiscate their weapons.
"We are fortunate in California to have the first and only system in the nation that tracks and identifies individuals who at one time made legal purchases of firearms but are now barred from possessing them," Sen. Mark Leno, the San Francisco Democrat who wrote the bill, said in a statement.
"However, due to a lack of resources, only a few of these illegally possessed weapons have been confiscated, and the mountain of firearms continues to grow each day. This legislation makes a significant reinvestment in our state's unique tracking system to help eliminate this troubling backlog of illegal weapons and protect public safety in our communities."
The bill, which requires a two-thirds vote for passage, sailed through the state Senate last month, 31-0. It met more debate today in the Assembly, though passed handily in the end. Several Republicans argued that the legislation amounted to an unconstitutional tax because it uses fees levied on gun buyers to fund the program.
"This bill passed too quickly out of the Senate. It was not properly vetted and not properly written. It's an illegal law," said Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-Santee.
Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, said the high murder rate in her city justifies the use of the fee to fund the prohibited persons program.
"This bill cuts right to the heart of the problem, getting guns away from people who aren't supposed to have them," Eggman said, adding, "I strongly urge an aye vote to provide an immeditate remedy to communities like Stockton that have been plagued by violence."
SB 140 will go back to the Senate for concurrence on amendments before it can be sent to Gov. Jerry Brown.
PHOTO CREDIT: Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee file, 2012